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Paddy Power Feature UK

"We're disappointed if we don't get complaints," Paddy Power's global marketing director on why more brands should be pushing the boundaries


By Gillian West | Social media manager

January 16, 2014 | 5 min read

With a marketing strategy based on mischief it’s no surprise that Paddy Power’s unique approach to marketing sometimes lands the brand in hot water, from its LOCOG-flouting Olympic ad – that sparked The Drum’s very own Fauxlympics competition – to its controversial decision to sponsor Dennis Rodman’s recent trip to North Korea, before pulling out at the eleventh hour, Paddy Power is one brand you can’t accuse of playing it straight.

In 2013 the ASA received 121 complaints about 49 Paddy Power ads, and just this week the Irish bookmaker is facing allegations that luxury gifts it sent to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un could have broken UN sanctions.

Yet in spite of the numerous complaints - though the ASA didn't formally investigate any of the claims - it seems Paddy Power’s mischief-making ways are far from over. Speaking to The Drum, Christian Woolfenden, the brand’s global marketing director and judge at this year’s The Drum Marketing Awards, said brands today are too “concerned with the downside than the upside” of being bold and pushing marketing boundaries.

Woolfenden said too many marketers now “come into a role and feel like the purpose of the job is to do a little better than the last guy”. He adds: “There are loads of brands you look at and think you should be doing more, and it surprises me that more don’t just go for it. Paddy Power is significantly outspent in the sector by our competitors, but the reason we punch above our weight and go out of our way to do the stand out stuff is because it pays back.

“When you play it safe you’re the same as everyone else and the whole point about branding is to use the intangible to stand out from the crowd because it’s rare that you’re the only brand in a category, you’re always up against a handful of pretty serious competitors.”

Although Paddy Power’s competitors may receive fewer complaints for their advertising, they also receive less column inches with Paddy Power’s stunts often featuring in the national press, though for every well received campaign like last year’s ‘Rainbow Laces’ in support of gay footballers, there's another that doesn't quite hit the mark. But these ‘failures’ are just as important as the success stories.

“At Paddy Power there is a culture of celebrating the things that don’t take off, for any of the stuff that catches people’s eye there are 10 things that have gotten 90 per cent of the way there and not happened, there’s a cultural piece there, too many brands concern themselves with the consequences of getting it wrong rather than thinking if it goes wrong there will be massive learnings from it that will probably allow us to get it right the next time,” he said.

Speaking directly of the complaints Paddy Power receives, Woolfenden remarked: “The complaints are never from your own consumers, for us we know our consumer and we receive around 95 per cent positive commentary, then you get the five per cent who have an opinion on everything, and actually if we don’t get complaints we’re quite disappointed.”

Knowing its audience is something which Paddy Power prides itself on and social media has played a big role in this - whether it’s “bantering” with its Facebook and Twitter fans or pushing one of Paddy Power’s infamous reactive campaigns which Woolfenden credits for making the brand part of the “news agenda”, something which brands are increasingly striving for with ‘newsjacking’ and reactive campaigns.

Last year, Paddy Power ran campaigns off the back of Alex Ferguson’s retirement, the horsemeat scandal and Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, though Woolfenden believes its mix of reactive and carefully planned ‘mischief’ is central to the brand’s success.

“There is always going to be the need to plan ahead. Take our World Cup campaign, the mischief that we’re planning for that can’t be done at short notice, but you’re missing a trick as a brand if you’re not in on the reactive stuff too. The world is more reactive and being seen to be getting involved in those conversations is crucial for good brand engagement,” he added.

As a judge at this year’s The Drum Marketing Awards Woolfenden revealed he would be looking for entries that were more than “just great creative work”.

“I want to see good consumer insights and phenomenal creative work achieving great business results because I think they’re key, and [the biggest faux pas] an entrant can make in my eyes is fluffy analytics. There’s always a risk in marketing that we’re seen as the guys that do the creative stuff and don’t drive business as hard as we should, I’m keen to see if it connects up with the business side,” he said.

Sponsoring this year's The Drum Marketing Awards are Havas Worldwide London, The Gask & Hawley Group, The Recommended Agency Register, Tube Mogul and The Drum Network.

More information on The Drum Marketing Awards, judges, categories and how to enter can be found on The Drum Marketing Awards website.

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